If imitation is the sincerest form
of flattery, it’s also a great way to gauge your
legacy. While loads of vintage pieces earn “classic”
status through continued use and desirability
in their original form, the legendary tweed
Fender Deluxe of the late ’50s has also established
its longevity by being one of the most
copied tube-amp designs of all time.
What’s so special about this luggage-linen-covered
pine box with three knobs and five tubes?
Plenty. Rich and sweet clean tones at low
volume, toothsome overdrive at decibels that
won’t make the soundman apoplectic, and compact
dimensions that’ll let it ride in the front seat
of your Fiat 500. In short, the tweed Deluxe is
the original “ideal studio and club amp.”
The Deluxe was one of Fender’s first-ever
guitar amps. Introduced in 1946—four years
before the Broadcaster—when Leo was mainly
in the business of making lap-steel guitars and
amps to go with them. As the mid-sized contender
of the three amps in the “Woodie” lineup—a 1x10 combo positioned between the smaller
1x8 Princeton and the larger 1x15 Professional—it was a success with local So-Cal musicians
almost overnight, and became the cornerstone
of the new company’s mid-sized amp range.
Over the next ten years, the Deluxe evolved,
moving into the TV-front livery with a 12” speaker
in 1949, then the wide-panel tweed in 1953, and,
finally, the revered narrow-panel tweed in 1955.
Late in the wide-panel run, the Deluxe dropped
the large eight-pin preamp tubes for newer, more
compact nine-pin bottles, taking on a 12AY7 in the
first gain stage of each channel, and a 12AX7 in
the driver/phase-inverter. The circuit was refined
throughout this period—mainly in the name of
greater efficiency and improved headroom—but it remained a simple, straightforward, and
sweetly raw-sounding amp to the end.
The latter renditions of the tweed Deluxe
have become the most desirable, and the most
emulated, having been refined to the point of
optimizing what’s loveable about the design in
the first place, without becoming so polite as
to squash the amp’s character. The late-’50s
Deluxe circuit—designated “5E3”—contains several
key elements that contribute to its fabled
sound. Amid an uncluttered signal path, this
circuit incorporates a split-phase inverter and
driver that add a little gritty breakup at the start
of the output stage; two easily overdriven 6V6
output tubes in cathode-bias with no negative
feedback for a sweet, harmonically rich tone; and
a 5Y3 tube rectifier that provides just enough
sag to enhance dynamics and touch sensitivity.
There isn’t a lot of headroom here. At about
ten o’clock with a Telecaster, or nine o’clock with
a Les Paul, you’re already dipping into edge-of-breakup
tones, and flat-out raging by high noon.
This is a big part of the amp’s appeal, and it’s a
sound that has laid the foundations of so many
classic and current guitar tones. Neil Young,
Mike Campbell, Rich Robinson, Billy Gibbons,
and countless others have tapped this diminutive
tone monster to get their groove on. If you
can’t afford the original, good reproductions are
available from makers such as Victoria, Cortez,
and Richter. The DIY-minded can also check out
kits from Mission Amps, Marsh, Weber, Mojotone,
Ceriatone, and others.
• Two 6V6 output tubes generating
around 15 watts RMS.
• Cathode-biased output stage
with no negative feedback.
• One 12AY7 preamp tube and
one 12AX7 phase inverter.
• 5Y3 rectifier tube.
• Simple treble-bleed Tone control.
• One Jensen P12R 12" speaker
with alnico magnet.
• Open-back combo cab
made from solid pine.